Patrick Chitumba/Munyaradzi Musiiwa, Midlands Bureau
The death toll due to the typhoid outbreak in Gweru has risen to eight as the cumulative total of suspected cases has risen to over 1 500.
As Gweru City Council and central government intensify measures to contain the outbreak, police were called yesterday to clear the city of vendors.
However, business came to a halt in the central business district as police and illegal vendors engaged in fierce running battles as the latter defied a council directive to vacate the streets and shop pavements following the typhoid outbreak.
Vendors took to the streets armed with stones and other objects, pelting police and council vehicles vowing to stay put on the streets, especially on OK Zimbabwe and Pick n Pay supermarket pavements.
Last week, the local authority and the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing jointly gave vendors a 48-hour ultimatum to vacate the CBD as part of their strategies to combat typhoid.
Vendors have stayed put, prompting the local authority to engage police to assist in moving them off the streets and pavements.
There was drama in the CDB from around 11am to around 3pm, as police who were trying to shepherd vendors off the streets to their designated selling points were being attacked.
So tense was the situation that big retailers such as Pick n Pay, OK Zimbabwe and other shops in the CBD were forced to close.
Police scurried for cover as vendors attempted to set their vehicles on fire and had to unleash tear smoke to disperse them.
Acting Midlands provincial police spokesperson Assistant Inspector Ethel Mukwende said police were reinforcing the municipal police in moving the vendors from the streets and pavements in the CBD to designated selling points.
She said the police were not using force in doing so.
“What is happening is that following the outbreak of typhoid in Gweru, Gweru City Council approached police so that they could help in asking the vendors to vacate the CBD,” said Asst Insp Mukwende. “This is one of the strategies to combat typhoid.
“We have been engaging vendors and they are aware that they are supposed to move. Contaminated food can be a source of typhoid and Gweru City Council said vendors might also end up spreading the disease. We are not using force to move them, but we are engaging them.”
Town clerk Ms Elizabeth Gwatipedza confirmed that vendors had resisted vacating the CBD since Monday.
She said she was still to get full details pertaining to yesterday’s skirmishes.
“I am failing to get through to the person who was on the ground,” she said.
“Last update was at lunch (Monday) where they were playing hide and seek. There were very few pockets of resistance and vendors had adopted a strategy of not displaying their wares, but carrying them in small quantities.”
A vendor who spoke on condition of anonymity said the challenge with the designated places set up by council was that they were crowded and out of town.
Gweru typhoid taskforce coordinator Dr Simon Nyadundu said as of Sunday, 38 new cases were recorded from 621 people screened of typhoid.
“A cumulative total of 1 506 suspected cases of typhoid have been reported in Gweru since July 20. Of these six confirmed and zero are probable cases. Eight deaths reported since declaration of outbreak on August 6,” he said.
“Yesterday (on Sunday) 38 new suspects out of 621 screened were recorded. There are six admissions.”
Dr Nyadundu said water sampling is on-going though they were facing challenges of inadequate equipment.
He said Government has been providing water treatment pills to every household in the city.
Dr Nyadundu said they had also beefed up staff at council and Government health institutions.
“We have teams on the ground and we mobilised more stuff from other districts in a bid to have enough workforce so that we curb this water borne disease as a matter of urgency,” he said.